There’s a venerable tradition in golf known as a mulligan, the rule that allows a “do-over,” a second try after a golfer’s first has gone awry.
Alas, there are no mulligans for parents in child rearing, only the ability to look back on their efforts with pride, relief, regret, or typically some combination of all three.
In a recent online discussion with a group of Catholic mothers, many of whom suffer greatly with adult children who have abandoned the practice of their Faith, and I mean truly suffer, I was challenged to reflect on my own performance, along with my husband’s, in rearing our two daughters when asked, “What would you have done differently?”
Reflecting on this was a painful exercise. Looking back, we thought we were doing mostly the right things. We made God the center of our lives and home. We prayed together daily and read Bible stories to the girls before they could even walk or talk. Grace before every meal. Bedtime prayers together every night. Mass every Sunday. Our girls faithfully attended religious education classes. We involved them in all of our pro-life activities and other charitable efforts of our church.
We learned it was not enough. Now in their thirties, one daughter is a militant atheist and the other is an agnostic.
So while a mulligan can’t help us now, perhaps some moms and dads who are closer to the first tee of Catholic parenting might benefit from what we would have done differently if we had a “do-over.” Here are five suggestions:
1. From the earliest age, help your kids cultivate authentically Catholic friends. Socialize (both you and your children) with like-minded Catholic families so your kids don’t perceive Catholic practice as “odd.” Our kids had Catholic friends but most of their families never even went to Mass on Sundays, so our family was perceived as “extremely religious.”
2. Enroll your children in an authentic Catholic grade school. It’s worth the sacrifice of time, travel and cost to send your kids there. The critical word here is “authentic.” Many so-called Catholic schools are just purveyors of social justice pablum. You will have to be thorough in investigating schools: are religion classes conducted daily? what books are on required reading lists? what percent of students are non-Catholic and how much “accommodation” is given them when teaching the tenets of our Faith? are there priests or religious (in habits) among the faculty? are lay teachers Catholic and obligated to live according to Catholic teaching?
While you as the parents are your kids’ primary religious educators, it’s not enough. Children need full, daily immersion in their Faith that a good Catholic school environment can provide.
As an alternative to a traditional Catholic school, and I know this sounds scary to many parents, join a Catholic homeschooling community. Their numbers are growing and the homeschool co-op model means you don’t have to go it alone.
3. Don’t underestimate the influence of friends in your kids’ school preferences, especially daughters. If they go to a Catholic grade school, going to a Catholic high school will seem natural. Trying to switch from a public grade school to Catholic high school is darn near impossible; girls want to go where their friends are going.
4. Seek out a traditional parish (Novus Ordo or Latin Mass parish) with a youth group and a rigorous religious ed program. The goal in all of these efforts is to align and integrate your children’s family life, social life, parish life and education to form a strong bulwark against destructive cultural and secular influences.
5. Conversely, don’t send your kids to a Catholic college unless it’s an institution recommended by the Cardinal Newman Society. The Society publishes an annual guide that identifies which colleges maintain an authentic Catholic identity.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of the culture. You try to protect your kids but you can’t bubble wrap them. As a Catholic parent you will always be swimming upstream. Talk to your kids, early and often, about moral issues. Whether it be about abortion, same sex marriage, secular weddings, or gender fluidity, make your discussions with them a form of apologetics: “You may have heard…., and here’s why that is wrong…”
5. Start with the end in mind. A recent study found that the average parent spends five hours and 18 minutes a day worrying about their kids, thinking about how to keep them safe, healthy and happy. Yet how much time is consciously spent on the most important job of parents – helping our children get to heaven? This goal should be in the forefront of every Catholic parent’s thinking and decisions relating to their children. Just as a golfer keeps his eyes fixed on his ball, parents must keep their eyes fixed on this end – eternity. There is nothing more important because there’s no mulligan in eternity. And our children need to know that too.
There are 18 holes of golf and parents have 18 years to lay the foundation for their children to live as lifelong, good and holy Catholics. Perhaps these tips will help parents avoid some “duff shots” and improve their “handicap” as they undertake the most important role of their lives.